Saturday, 21 February 2015

Where’s the Culture in Benalmádena?

Since finally succeeding in tracking down a guide to cultural events for the first three months of 2015 in Benalmádena, I had been looking forward to Bach’s Goldberg Variations being interpreted on piano via José Luis de Miguel Ubago.


One would have thought that Benalmádena being a tourist town that the tourist information office would be the place to go to obtain the aforesaid brochure. In previous years this had been my source of such information. But you would be very wrong. The second week I was here - in January, recall - I paid a visit only to be informed that there would be no more information guides until April and those - rather obviously - for the following quarter. Not to be stymied, I thought I would try the Castillo Bil-Bil, the venue for many recitals and gallery showings. There was one on the attendant’s desk; but it being their last one I did not wish to take it.  Next I visited the Casa de la Cultura (“House of Culture”) in the centre of Arroyo de la Miel (which co-incidentally perhaps, also contains the chambers of the town’s mayor). Piles of the brochures were liberally placed on the table set aside for information on tourist attractions.

[Image description: poster displaying the council's coat of arms]

I approached the desk and asked to purchase a ticket for the piano concert. I was informed that I would have to return the Monday prior to the concert, i.e. 16th February. Naturally I did so, this time to be apprised that entrances could be purchased solely two hours before the performance. Apparently the event had nothing to do with the town hall, who had merely rented out the castillo to the event’s organisers. In that case I have to ask why the event appeared in the official brochure of cultural events and why the programme and posters are emblazoned with “Ayuntamiento [Town Hall] de Benalmádena: Delegación de Cultura”. Seemingly someone at the town hall wanted the credit for the event, but none of the responsibility.

In the week after obtaining my hen’s-tooth guide, I revisited the tourist information office to let them know that there were plenty of brochures available in the commercial town centre. The officer was somewhat irked for, as she pointed out, in the space set aside for cultural events, there was not even a poster, a flier, nor a list.

Given that tourism is a very major part of the economy of Benalmádena, it is incomprehensible to me to understand the lackadaisical attitude towards apprising tourists of actually what is going on in the municipality and making it as simple and as easy as possible to attend events. This latter situation had been my experience in previous years: so why the deterioration?

Goodness knows what impression any tourists may have taken back to their respective countries and what messages they may disseminate.


José Luis de Miguel Ubago has won many prizes and studied with many fine pianists. He is now a professor of piano in Granada. I was expecting great music. I was to be sorely disappointed. I suspect the pianist misinterpreted the Goldberg Variations as the Cold Berg or Iceberg Variations. Music played competently enough, but with no passion; hardly a flicker of emotion expressed itself in the mien of José Luis. Occasionally the tiniest crack of a smile (assuming it was not wind); but for the most part the player looked as if he were sucking a giant gobstopper. He thrashed at the keyboard, apparently having no lightness of touch - and yes, I could see his playing reflected in the lid of the piano. At one point I stood up to see whether he was actually using the pedals - and he was! Perhaps the instrument itself was a tad out of tune, for the music emitted was harsh on the ears - some of the sharps far so; some of the flats likewise!

[Image description: the phlegmatic pianist]

After thirty minutes of intense patience the audience spontaneously broke out into mass fidgeting. By this time, on the row in front of me: one man had dropped off to sleep; an unconnected lady played with her smartphone; and another woman at the far end of the row decided that the contents of her handbag were far more entertaining. After fifty minutes two folk left and another two five minutes later. When José Luis decided to do one of the variations as his encore, I myself made a dash for the exit. What was so surprising were the folk who stood to applaud the chap: they really must be desperate for any culture to put up with and appreciate such perfunctory offerings. Interestingly only one person uttered “Bravo” and sotto voce it should be noted. There was no heart-felt cheering.

If the concert had been a compact-disc, I should not have purchased it.

[Image description: the piano in situ]

Friday, 20 February 2015

The Little Prince: "La existencia abierta"

[Image description: the front cover with illustration of the Little Prince]

Regular readers of this blog will probably recall my list of favourite books and that my all-time most admired is The Little Prince/Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. In Spanish the work is entitled El Principito. Like Alice in Wonderland, an ostensible children’s work, it can be argued that The Little Prince is in fact aimed squarely at adults. Antoine became exasperated that the themes of his novels were not being latched onto by their ‘grown-up’ readers, and so created one of literature’s most loved characters.

I have discovered two Castilian books referencing the latter: El Principito se pone la corbata: Una fábula sobre crecimiento personal para redescubrir lo que de verdad importa by Borja Vilaseca and La existencia abierta: Para lectores de El Principito by Rafael Tomás Caldera. The first I am only part-way through; but the second I have finished.

The title in English would be something like The Open Existence: For Readers of The Little Prince. The use of ‘the’ is very definitive and to an Englander’s ear ‘an’ would more likely be used. However, Rafael is very specific, in the just under one hundred pages, that life not open to new experiences, to otherness and to others is no life at all but merely survival.

Whilst I am not au fait with the nuances of the adjective ‘abierto’ in Spain, the term ‘open’ has multiple meanings in English: receptive; unlocked; ajar; untied; navigable; wide; free; vulnerable; honest; unreserved; transparent; manifest; moot; available;…… The list may not be quite endless, but no doubt the reader can think of many other synonyms. In most cases, I suspect Rafael would accept such descriptors as adding to what he is attempting to convey.

Whatever personality type we happen to be, Caldera iterates and re-iterates that no-one is an island living in isolation; we all need other individuals to aid us in our personal development. Above all, we need others in order to love - which is not to imply solely romantic love. Quite the opposite in fact, as Rafael in one chapter analyses the different loves Saint-Exupéry describes in The Little Prince and the rest of his œuvre.

Caldera’s work is backed up with occasional quotations from some of the aforesaid works along with those of other commentators on the subject matter. Whilst Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was raised a Roman Catholic, it his deep Humanism for which he is renowned. I am certain, however, that he would take no umbrage at works by religious voices being cited, as Rafael has been careful only to use quotations that help elucidate the issues.

Each chapter is very short. I found that I was reading one at a time and then contemplating the matters raised in a sort of meditation or at least cogitation. However, I was reading the book at a beach café-bar sitting in brilliant sunshine and enveloping warmth!

As with most printed works in Spain, the book comes with a pretty hefty price-tag; €10 for a very physically small, slim and lightweight edition. Nonetheless, for me it has been worth every penny… erm, cent. %)

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Some Hurts Go Too Deep

[For IJSH]

Some Hurts Go Too Deep

shrouded from light
in a heavily patched
moth-eaten blanket
torch-light flashing across memories
photographs faded, crumpled or
jaggedly torn
hands shaking
palms to fingertips
oozing sweat
briny perspiration
playing cards with
dated portraits
flicking faster through them
dropping them
to the floor
are they really tears?
picking at a loose thread
tugging too hard
nearly undone
my life, my psyche, my ego
hypersensitive, raw
coming across his photo
stunned to pause
at the child
I bore
but the hole is
too far gone
too late to sew
time, new love, distance
cannot mend
the breach
I will never heal
not even till I reach
life’s unsolicited,
torturous end
a begrudging, stoic acceptance
the damage is done
a permanent rend
in my now ragged mantle
drawing it tighter, closer
about me
breathing in the stale odour
I lost my son
I lost my brother
I lost my sister
I lost my father
I lost my mother
I lost more than one lover
I lost my self
taking comfort, reassurance
I did love
I did live
under my tired, old, grubby
settling down to fitful sleep
eschewing pain in imperfect rest
half anticipating the hit
ready for the next
unwelcome test
unexpected death
or a new someone
taking another look
at the boy’s photo
perhaps really I died
years ago
I’ll wait for him
to come…

[Image description: my favourite blankey goes with me always on my travels]

Friday, 13 February 2015

Matt Alber Hits Fifty…!

[Image description: Matt playing keyboard]

Actually, Matt Alber has just turned forty. Which, quite naturally, is just wonderful! The old adage states that, “Life begins at forty.” Though to be honest, Matt appears to have been seizing at what his span has to offer for quite some years now. As an exemplar to us all, his existence led as he sees fit and following wherever his dreams lead, he is greatly to be admired.

Also absolutely fantastic - but not quite the same order of fabulousness - is the fact that my article published on 26th June 2013 (6.26.2013) on Matt Alber in Birmingham (not Alabama!) (see screen-shot image below) has breached fifty thousand (50,000 ; 50K) viewings this February. Unless the same few folk have been revisiting over and over, that means some fifty thousand individuals have read my blog-post. Truly humbling.

I do not think for one moment it has anything whatsoever to do with my writing, but rather interest in the subject himself, the eponymous singer - musician - composer - photographer - artists’ model - cum - occasional silk screen-printer. This multi-talented chap just keeps on surprising his fans: last year a cultural exchange trip to ostensibly homophobic Russia, whence Matt received a right royal welcome; this year celebrating his birthday with new friends in Sudan, where he has been supporting and singing with Sudanese choirs.

The chap who practices love-in-action (aka agape), better than many a so-called (mean-spirited) Christian, requested that instead of fortieth birthday gifts, donations be made to a young people’s homelessness charity, Larkin Street Youth Services, in his base residence of San Francisco. Whilst appearing to be a living saint, Matt does admit to faults, possibly even vices, in his lyrics - well, that is assuming his compositions are autobiographical and not simply fictional narrative. We all are well aware that assumption is the mother of all f*ck-ups (after “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”): so, Matt probably IS in actuality a saint!

I suppose I have created my own beatific altar to saintly Matt via by blog-posts on him, but from a readership angle especially the Brum one. Although from a personal perspective my ginger take is more of an homage - he certainly gets me all numinous!

Looking at my iTunes list of twenty-five most played pieces of music (see image above), it is not until position sixteen that another artist gets a look-in and a separate artist at number twenty-two. Thirty-three of my top fifty most played are Matt Alber tracks, i.e. two-thirds. (In my top 100, Daniel Barenboim playing Chopin makes thirteen appearances; then Eva Cassidy and Bahramji & Maneesh de Moor with eight appearances apiece; next with three hits each Sébastien Tellier and Sir Neville Marriner conducting Bach pieces. Which should point to the fact I am no musicologist!)

Whilst from pure number of plays, “End of the World” would appear to be my favourite track; it is in fact “Wallingford”. I was thrilled when Matt actually sang this in Birmingham. And I have never recovered from the erasing of the live video-recording which my normally very meticulous technical assistant somehow lost in the transfer process.

I was hoping Matt might reprieve the track last summer in Manchester; but it was not to be. Matt was as personable in M/cr as he had been in B’ham: a perfect English gentleman. Having watched videos on youtube, I know his speaking accent becomes less “American” over here in Blighty; though his sung articulation appears not to be affected by his peregrinations.

Unfortunately, I was having one of my extended periods of ill-health at the time of Matt’s Mancunian visit and so had to be whisked off by my carer as soon as the concert ended, and so could not chat with him, as after the Brummie recital. For this reason also, I never managed to write an item on his wonderfully generous performance.

My muscles were weak and I was suffering sporadic, unpredictable spasming, exacerbated by having to use stairs due to there being no disabled access to the venue. The photographs I endeavoured to take were pretty awful. The image at the head of this posting and below are from the event: the best I have to share I regret.

Finally, my thanks to those of you who read my articles, even if only the Matt Alber ones. And of course, my gratitude to Matt… for his music… for being himself… and sharing himself with us. Looking forward to the next album - no pressure now! ;)

Friday, 6 February 2015

World Cancer Day 2015

[Image description: aecc green candles for remembrance]

The fourth of February this year is designated World Cancer Day or, in Spanish, Día Mundial Contra el Cáncer. Forty-five minutes before it commences, I am at Xanit Hospital International in Benalmádena for a presentation by aecc, la Asociacíon Española Contra el Cáncer, sponsored by the aforesaid hospital in conjunction with Vithas, a healthcare company whose tag-line is “cuidamos tu salud” - “we care for your health”.

[Image description: preparations in progress]

The preparations are in hand: discussions on the stage between the president of the local aecc association, Paqui, and the various participants, which look to include performances by a traditionally attired Castillian artist and by a Spanish guitarist.

Centre stage are six green candles, racing-green being the colour used by the aecc, placed on a makeshift altar draped in a flag of the association (see image below).

Twenty minutes before proceedings commence, dignitaries begin to arrive: men in their dark overcoats and women in their faux-furs, coats or jackets with such trimmings. A few moments later sufferers and their supporters enter with smiles, some singing - imagine that back in the UK! The hall quickly fills with cheery chatter and the smacking of lips against cheeks - no superficial air-kissing here. The emotion is real; the amity is genuine.

[Image description: the podium, inscribed with Xanit Hospital International]

With fifteen minutes to go, the local television channel, Digital Costa del Sol TV, has set up its camera, the cameraman making his final adjustments. Stage-hands set up the hoardings for the aecc and the sponsors behind the speakers’ podium, to ensure they appear in-shot no doubt. A microphone has been set up ready to take comments or questions from the audience or to record the sound of applause.

Ten minutes to go, and a trio of white-coated medics enter. Blinds are dropped to ensure the lighting is not adversely affected by the strong sunlight pouring through the glass-sheet window-walls. The cameraman is now taking filler-shots with his portable video-camera, focussing unsurprisingly on the officials in attendance - there are elections here in Spain in May also, so politicos do not want to miss an opportunity to be seen to be supporting a good cause. Or am I being overly cynical? My friend, Ana, one of today’s speakers is checking through her notes.

A minute or so late, the very personable lady-mayor (see image below) arrives with her train - lots of suits. Paloma is especially tall for a Spaniard. Her weekly programme on the local TV channel, in which she discusses topics of interest to Benalmadenses grips me. It is wonderfully democratic to see accountability and such enthusiasm for one’s municipality. UK democracy could learn from Spain in this area.

The press arrived with and behind the mayor’s retinue. Flashes break out hither and thither. Some of the late-arrival dignitaries greet audience members.

Five minutes late, the sound levels drop and conversation becomes more muted and moderated - believe me, really unusual here in Andalusia, where even getting folk to quieten in the theatre can be problematic!

The opening speaker (see below), the directress of the hospital I think, speaks softly and welcomes one and all to another year’s survival, celebration and reflection. She praises aecc for its support and activities for and on behalf of cancer-sufferers and their loved ones.

The following speaker (see image below) talks of the ongoing struggle against cancer and the strenuous efforts being made by hospitals throughout Spain. Meanwhile, late arrivals continue to trickle into the auditorium until we are around a hundred souls or so.

Ana (see image below) is up next introducing a co-ordinator who, with a joyous mien, describes her work with patients. Time and again, speakers talk of the friends they have made. I do not think they are deliberately avoiding the negative aspects of cancer, but rather that friendship trumps the illness. After all, when we face death, love is all that counts; all that matters in the final analysis.

We are played a moving piano piece. The audience falls silent and contemplative. Images are projected onto a screen: we are shown the ramifications, the cold reality of cancer. The scars that do not heal. The love that shines out of the faces of the sufferers and their loved ones. The short film is aecc’s 2015 contribution to cancer awareness. No doubt it will be another youtube hit for them.

“Vivir el Futuro” is next up, a film listening to and recording cancer-sufferers’ own experiences whilst attending an aecc event. They prepare a party, themselves and shine with joy and love. I think this is a genuine attempt to perceive cancer from the perspectives of sufferers and not some inspirational (sickness/disability) porn.

“Don’t go outside, return to yourself” - “No te vaya afuera, vuelve a ti mismo”. The third film follows a person’s cancer journey: from being diagnosed; learning about the illness effecting her; discussing issues and problems that arise from being a cancer-sufferer; to receiving help and support from aecc. The local association covering Fuengirola, Mijas & Benalmádena offers such activities as tai chi on the beach at sunset or joining in a drum circle.

After the third film, the silence breaks - the Spanish need for chatter will out!

Ana again. She introduces Paqui (see image below), the quietly spoken, ever courteous & generous president of the local aecc, who then expresses the gratitude of same and herself to all who have made possible this year’s event and all those who are attending. She speaks of folks’ dreams in relation to cancer and in respect to individual’s own wishes. And also of the attributes that aecc strives to pursue and express.

The candle-lighting ceremony begins.

The aecc president carefully discloses statistics in relation to cancer and fund-raising in Spain.

For each candle an aecc attribute is expounded upon by a fresh speaker for each.

The president iterates that aecc will be there for and stand hand in hand with cancer-sufferers until they are better.

A final film, an animation iterating the aecc attributes: help; unity; independence; transparency; professionalism; and, dynamism.

A disabled chap takes the stage. Evidently not a South American singer, but Andrés a passionate and emotional performance poet (see image below). We are handed a sheet with a poem, “Color Esperanza”. The chap declaims.

Next up a patient thanks those who have supported the cause; a doctor, a fundraiser, and a politician. They are each presented with a badge and commemorative certificate. A whole host of survivors and sufferers extend their thanks and gratitude to those who have supported them. And thus ends an inspirational late afternoon: no morbidity, no negativity; just joy at life and the expression of love-in-action through friendship.